Saturday, December 20, 2008

Behold That Star!

In most classes I visit there are "star students". They just sparkle. You can spot them if you are paying attention to what "turns them on" academically. Suddenly they shine. Their fellow students know it too. It is my job to bring them out and "let them shine". Like the Rubik's inspired "BrainTwist" above, they are multifaceted with many sides, faces, corners and colors. The challenge is to find the ways to twist and turn the curriculum and assignments to bring out their best.
This figure starts out a 4-sided pyramid but has 8 star faces from light green to dark, from purple to magenta, from blue to yellow and from orange to red. It can be quite frustrating and take hours. It takes patience and tenacity...just like teaching.

This last class before the Holiday Break there was a little first grade "sparkler". I like to play my "Music Box CD" when they come into the room. I watch how different kids respond or don't. This particular girl was just transported and immediately became "a music box dancer". She twirled and swirled around the room oblivious to her peers and me. She was up on her toes but I could tell she had had no formal instruction. The rest of her "day" was magical. She was quick to respond to all assignments and questions. She volunteered to help others and was "caught" being "good" so she could have a better "fun friday". She was a shining gem...a pearl.

One of my favorite teachers was there and I spotted her at lunch time with her kids. She never eats lunch with the teachers so I decided to visit her in her room with a "gift". She likes to have her kids do poems, recitations and skits. So I brought her the classic poem I had printed up: "The Owl and The Pussy-Cat" by Edward Lear. This was a Broadway Play/Musical a few years back with my favorite actor, Alan Alda. I also brought her the masks that are needed to act it out in pantomime. (owl, cat, pig, turkey). We had just done it two times in our first grade class. They loved it. Some were more into it...especially the dancing. There are "star teachers" too. They are leaders on their staff's and not afraid to "take the roads less traveled"...and that can make all the a career.

I've noticed that recently a mega-star, Will Smith, has made another thoughtful movie for the holidays. I started this blog with his "Pursuit of Happyness" using the Rubik's Cube as my symbol of the difficulty of teaching/learning now days (with all the emphasis on testing) Now Will has come up with an equally powerful concept. "The Pound of Flesh" from the Shakespearean Play, "Merchant of Venice". He calls it "Seven Pounds" because he tries to help/make amends with seven strangers. I haven't seen the movie yet. It may be awhile. In the mean time, I'm going to continue to "help strangers" as best I can as a roving sub. Maybe I too will make up for some of my "errors" character. Hope springs eternal. RRR

Friday, December 12, 2008

'Twas the Week Before Holiday...Break

'Twas the week before "Holiday" (break)
And all through the class
Every student was writing
Descriptive adjectives en masse
The children were nestled
All snug at their desks
While all five of their senses
Danced cozy arabesques
Their principal and teacher
Had called for more "copy"
Of Santa Letters and fantasy stories
No matter how sloppy
Now dashers ---, Now scribblers
Now printers and cursives
On commas! On phrases!
On sentences! and missives
To the top of the pile
Is it right (write) for the stage?
Let's edit, recopy
And smooth draft to "pink page"
I just spent the day, yesterday as a "rover sub" a a local school which was doing an "inservice training day" for all 3rd through 5th grade teachers on new technologies. As I stood outside with the 3rd grade class for the all-school reciting of the flag salute, pledge and motto, I heard the principal remind all students/classes to turn in their synonyms for a few, positive seasonal adjectives. i.e. jolly, merry, happy etc. Names and room numbers had to be on all "Santa Letters" if they were going to be "answered". Aha! Is this some academic leadership?...from an administrator? Wow!
When we arrived back at the classroom I began to see what was being referred to. On the white boards there were large sheets of butcher paper with lists of adjectives organized by how they described the five senses. I eventually found the "lesson plan" magetized to the white board next to these lists. It was all about "team time" and the writing projects they had been doing. They were to continue on these "projects" they had in their "writing folders" and try to take them from "sloppy copy" to "smooth drafts" on special pink-lined paper. They were all at different stages of the process. I was to rove and help with editing, spelling and suggestions for more use of descriptive adjectives at this "happy time of year". This is what I used to enjoy doing as a teacher of Language Arts. I'm sure they could sense my enthusiasm.
I could see that the regular teacher was very creative and a bit "messy"...just like I thought I used to kind of room. These were all mostly motivated and confident kids who got right to it. They were used to assignments like this and only had to be encouraged to sprinkle in a few more adjectives. There were no "templates" or formats to "copy". Everyone was doing something different, but mostly their own stories. (third grade level) For now, nothing was "turned in" but kept in their folders for future work...none of the usual "I'm done! What do I do next?" out loud announcements by the gung-ho ones. Just amazing!
This was also the class who all had their "recorder lesson" down pat when the special teacher came. We were ready for her and she did nothing but praise them for how well they all played. Since last year she had instituted "contests" class vs. class, 1/2 class vs. 1/2 class and groups of 4 or 5 vs. other groups where they chose what to perform. She even had a roll of the dice for a "prize recorder". This was a happy and proud class...highly motivated.
In the P.M. it was a slightly different story with the 5th grade. The teacher confided that the whole school (district), this school and his class was being asked to devote more and more time to "Language Arts" i.e. Reading and Writing especially. There were more warnings about disruptive behaviors and "how mean" I, the sub, really was etc. But basically, the class was mostly "on task" and motivated. We took turns reading through a "hand-out" on "Clouds" and the "fill-ins" attached. I was given the freedom to stay with it or move on to a "Persuasive Writing" assignment. I gave them a choice: Finish up the Clouds Packet or do the "Letter to the Parents"...asking for a party on Saturday. About half and half did each. The difference here was that there was a suggested "Topic Sentence", four supporting details for the body and a sample closing sentence, restating the topic sentence. Most that were turned in, stuck strictly to the "template" and didn't add any of their own descriptive, emotive adjectives to plead with their "parents. Here their collective goal seemed to be: get it done, get it over with. We then read a few pages about "watershed usage" and what happens to the precipitation from the "clouds". Most were not done with either the packet or the letter. We then had a Math-Art project of graphing on X and Y coordinates. Some students really got into this. I could see with others, it was dying...too I got out my Uke and we sang their "Holiday Show" songs for practice..."Up on the Housetop...and Must Be Santa" They enjoyed that and we slipped in some other P.C. carols. So we got some "Oral/Vocal Language Arts" into the lesson plan. In both classes we also had a visit from my "robot" "20Q" where they are fascinated to read the scrolled questions as it guesses their "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral". It teaches them how to ask "inductive and deductive questions"...just like those used in Science.RRR

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Foxy Family Feast

The Fox went out on a chilly night,
Prayed to the moon to give him light,
For*he'd many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o,
*He'd many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o.
He ran 'til he came to a great big pen
Where the ducks and the geese were kept therein;
*"A couple of you gona grease my chin...
Before I leave this town-o"...(x2)*
He grabbed the gray goose by the neck
Tossed a duck across his back
*He didn't mind their quack, quack, quack
And the legs all dangling down-o...(x2)*
Then old Mrs. Flipper-Flapper jumped out of bed,
Out of the window she cocked her head
Screamin', *"Fred, Fred the gray goose is gone
And the fox is on the town-o"...(x2)*
Then Fred, he ran to the top of the hill
Blew his horn both loud and shrill.
*Fox, said he, "Better flee with my kill
For they'll soon be on my trail-o"...(x2)*
He ran 'til he came to his cozy den.
There were the little ones, eight, nine, ten.
They said, *"Daddy, Daddy, better go back again
'Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o"...(x2)*
The fox and his wife, without any strife,
Cut up the goose with a carving knife.
*They never had such a supper in their life
And the little ones chewed on the bones-o...(x2)*
Our tale of this family feast is done
The farmers and the geese didn't have any fun
*Clever Mr. Fox fed his family,
All down in their cozy den-o...(x2)*
This is a fun song we "dramatized" with two first grades this past week. We used masks for the fox, the farmers and the geese. We discussed the meanings of all the bold words. We talked about "young-uns" ie. baby foxes -"kits", baby geese - "goslings", baby ducks - "ducklings" and Mrs. Fox - "Vixen" Then we talked about what it meant to be "foxy" or clever and predation comparing "pray" with "prey". Yes, we did all this with first graders and it would be even better with second graders. We had them spaced out in groups around the room. ie. the foxes in a corner "down in their cozy den" (all 12). The ducks and geese in another corner. The farmers, just the couple, were laid out on top of desks, "sleeping". They loved fact, they loved the whole thing and wanted to do it again and again with new casts. We suggested alliterative names for all the "leads" ie. Foxes - Phil and Fiona, Geese - Gladys and her gander, George, and farmers Fanny and Fred.
This is the kind of "teaching fun" I was used to..."back when dinosaurs roamed the earth"...B.T. (Before Testing) This was when schools and teachers were "trusted" and didn't have to prove every year that their kids were learning and "improving academically" they could get more funding. Yes, budgets were still limited, teachers made do with what they always but it was almost "economic" Supply was "down" so...demand was "up"...and kids seemed to learn anyway, in spite of our "limited (paper-pencil) efforts" Amazing!?
Now our "Foxy-Clever" Schools have a greater "supply" of "ignored kids" (both work, in day-care all day, with grandparents etc.) and the "demand" is greater for more "results" that can be measured and proven so "funds" can be bestowed to "deserving" schools/teachers who know how to "test" pre- to post. What have we done to our "great, free, educational system"? The "foxes" are having a "feast"! And there's no one to even clean up or care about the "feathers"!?
The "moral" of this "Foxy Fable" that we, once more can have "morale" our schools is: "Allow our kids to learn and grow as whole persons, using all their modalities for learning/experiencing Life." (ie. aural, visual, audio, tactile, kinesthetic...playful, creative...enigmatic, trial and error, asking, questioning themselves...not just for tests of proof.) Talk about "going green" in our about doing the same with our most "precious supply" (our future- kids) Consume less...demand more...even with a greater supply...and we'll get more (quality) returns and live within our "budgets" Yes, I think there are parrallels to our current economic "recession". We all have to adjust our thinking and acting (consuming) downward and become more frugal in our "wants" and "demands" even from our schools. Then, maybe, just maybe, they can find their own "true value" again and we can "demand" what really counts and have a better society and future.RRR